This article appeared in the June 09, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Why the Drew Brees shift on racial protests matters

D. Ross Cameron/AP/File
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (right) is greeted by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees at the end of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, California, on Nov. 6, 2016. As athletes and sports organizations around the world speak out against racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Drew Brees drew sharp criticism after he reiterated his opposition to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

In the past week, I’ve had the privilege of watching the NFL response to the George Floyd protests through the eyes of an 11-year-old friend. He’s a huge football fan and avid student of the game.

He was fascinated by last week’s video of black pro football players demanding the NFL “condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people.” He’s heard about the NFL commissioner’s response. But he was particularly interested in what Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints posted on Instagram:

 “Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Mr. Brees wrote, reversing an earlier position.”We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.”

“Wow,” my friend responded. 

“Why ‘wow’?” I asked.

He was incredulous: “Drew Brees is the second-best quarterback in the NFL today – after Tom Brady, of course.” 

You might say “so what?” if Mr. Brees and a few other white athletes finally understand why San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem in 2016. A shift in views by pro athletes won’t end racism. And 32 NFL owners have yet to offer Mr. Kaepernick a job. 

But to many young football fans, what Drew Brees says matters. And my young African American friend heard a change of thought, and a change of heart. Maybe even some humility. And that mattered.

This article appeared in the June 09, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/09 edition
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